Did the PMO break down, or is it a leadership problem?

There is an interesting and quite lengthy article, datelined 20 Apr 19, by Daniel Leblanc and Adam Radwanski in the Globe and Mail in which they say that “The cracks were already showing when the powerful backroom duo at the heart of Justin Trudeau’s government … [Gerald Butts and Katie Telford] … dined at the Château Laurier last December.”

Those “cracks,” they suggest emerged because the two, Mr Butts the Principal Secretary, the idea man who dealt with the high level, big-picture issues, and Ms Telford, the intense, highly organized detail person who kept things coordinated, roles for which both were well suited, were, in fact, acting as co-CEOs, both being on the big-idea side of the equation, but Messers Leblanc and Radwanski say, “The bigger problem, according to the assessment of effectively having two principal secretaries, was that nobody was squarely and consistently on top of day-to-day operations – there was no chief operating officer alongside the “co-CEOs … [or] … as one government insider put it, and many (though not all) others agreed when it was repeated back to them, this PMO often functioned as though it had two principal secretaries and no chief of staff.” In fact, they say that Ms Telford was pressed into the co-CEO role by Prime Minister Trudeau, leaving what should have been her COO role vacant. That wouldn’t have been too bad if he, the prime minister, had become the COO, but he didn’t, likely because he’s not terribly good with either detail or with people, as individuals. The reporters say that Prime Minister Trudeau is great in large crowds, he’s comfortable there, being the star, but he is not good with individuals, especially not with formidable, talented, principled individuals like Marc Garneau, Ralph Goodale, Andrew Leslie, Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Daniel Leblanc and Adam Raswanski say that “To better understand the dynamics of the Prime Minister’s Office under Mr. Trudeau, The Globe and Mail spoke to more than two dozen Liberal Party sources: current and former chiefs of staff, ministerial aides, senior members of the PMO, ministers and MPs, as well as outsiders with long ties to the party and the current government. They were granted anonymity in order to speak freely and, in some cases, avoid professional retribution.

The whole article is, in my opinion, a damning indictment of Justin Trudeau’s inept leadership and management capabilities. The American leadership and management guru Warren Bennis said …


… but it appears that Justin Trudeau did neither. Daniel Lebalnc and Adam Radwanski point, again and again, to a prime minister who, as former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said, using Justin Trudeau’s own words, sees his role as being “ceremonial in nature.” He left both the details, doing things right, and the top-level ideas, doing the right thing, to others, mainly to Mr Butts and Ms Telford. He is neither a good manager nor even a half decent leader.

They explain that “Some of what preoccupied them – an increasingly volatile international climate that has seen mounting tensions with countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, and above all the fallout from Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. – would have thrown a wrench into any government’s day-to-day operations … [but then there is the prime minister’s] … inclination to be away from Ottawa, representing Canada on the world stage and connecting with Canadians outside the political bubble … [which some see] … as a positive. Asked about his travel itinerary since taking office in 2015, a spokesperson noted that he has made 41 international trips, to 31 countries, and stopped in more than 200 locations in Canada … [and, that, therefore] … for all the focus on Mr. Trudeau’s staff, his absences from Ottawa combined with his surprising remoteness may point to where the buck stops for his government’s various management issues … [because] … A prime minister who implicitly trusts and gives his top aides free rein on key files – who does not directly Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 06.14.04receive much input from ministers or most staff or rely on caucus members to be his eyes and ears across government and share their concerns – is liable to eventually pay for his hands-off approach.” They were an interesting trio: two very capable and accomplished, highly focused individuals, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, and one vague, distracted, rather out of focus celebrity man-child with a famous name but not much else on his resumé.

Regarding the whole ‘Lavscam‘ issue, about which Messers Leblanc and Radwanski say  that while “The ethical implications of how Mr. Trudeau’s office engaged itself in SNC-Lavalin’s criminal case will long be the subject of debatewhat is beyond question is that the entire affair – from last fall through this past winter – represented a major system breakdown within the PMO … [and] … Mr. Trudeau may have suffered, relatedly, for the extent to which he delegated his dealings with cabinet ministers to his staff and to Mr. Wernick, the Privy Council clerk. While Mr. Trudeau did have at least one conversation with Ms. Wilson-Raybould about the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement, alongside Mr. Wernick in September, he evidently did not have a strong read on the state of affairs by the time of the January shuffle.” What we, all of Canada and the world, saw, was a weak man with no discernable leadership skills or talent stumbling through a crisis, hoping against hope that someone would lead him out of the mess.

Despite all the evidence of disorganization, serious overwork problems, poor priority setting and ill-defined roles, presented by Daniel Leblanc and Adam Radwanski, I can only conclude that the problems that beset Canada’s government tory-attack-adat both the policy-making and action levels are the sole result of inept leadership from Justin Trudeau. Put most simply, he was, in 2015, and remains, now “just not ready.” He has no real conception of what it julie_payette_jpgmeans to be the leader of the government of a G7 nation … he thinks he is, and he wants to be, a figurehead, but we have one of those … two of those, in fact, named Julie Payette and Queen Elizabeth II, and neither is Justin Trudeau. The figurehead job is filled the head of government one appears, to me, to be vacant.

Messers Leblanc and Radwanski conclude that “Prime ministers who want to serve more than a single term usually need to have a strong enough handle on their own political identity, and the dynamics of their government, to adapt to different teams around them … [but] … With the era of the co-CEOs now over, Mr. Trudeau will have less of the luxury of being managed – and a little more managing to do himself.” I don’t think he’s up to the job.

It is time to fill the head of government job, the office of the prime minister of Canada, with an adult who is ready to lead and to manage his own team: Andrew Scheer.



Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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